DEXTER, Mich. - The picture of the ugly American is almost universal. Travel outside the country and there are those whispers of how uncouth or unrefined we are. Listen to our domestic political discourse and you would think we are the most unintelligent and loathsome creatures on the planet [that's one side speaking of the other]. Then, from the heavens, descends an F-3 tornado all across Dexter, Mich., and that horrible picture of us, or are supposed to be, disappears as quickly as the storm's passing.
Having been sent to Dexter at the height of the storm, I have witnessed firsthand how, in the face of disaster the beautiful American, the warm hearted people we really are at heart came to the fore in impressive measure. The first kindness we saw was from a neighbor. On Thursday night, David Turner, a Dexter resident who lives along the railroad tracks told us he thought the nightly Amtrak train was rumbling through when the storm hit. He looked and didn't see a train. He did see a neighbor's 100 plus year old tree fall down across the road. He pulled out his chainsaw and immediately went to work.
The next day I returned to the same neighborhood knowing Dave alone could not have cut up such a massive tree, and sure enough, 50 volunteers were there working on the remains of that tree and the eight others lying across the homeowner's lawn. It was mostly high school students from Dexter, the football team and other girl's teams as well. They had face booked and tweeted among themselves and mobilized a volunteer army that worked tirelessly over the weekend. In fact, I was told by one resident in the Dexter Pinckney Road area the lacrosse team showed up to move and cut limbs on Sunday.
IMAGES: Damage along Dexter-Pinckney
Granted, the Dexter tornado went national on the Today Show among others. It inspired volunteer groups like the Southern Baptist Convention to send tree cutting crews in today. But we heard tell this morning of something completely unexpected; Amish volunteers cutting trees and cleaning brush. We rushed right over to the address and sure enough there they were. Alvin, Sam and Paul… in their straw hats, black boots, dark blue overalls with light blue button down shirts and long beards were at work at Sue Johnson's house. Now think about this for a second; the Amish, as a rule, don't read the newspaper, they don't have electricity to watch television, unlike the Dexter teen volunteers they eschew technology. Still, they had heard through word of mouth about Dexter's troubles they wanted to help in anyway they could.
Ed Teegardin of Hamilton, Indiana is a member of Samaritan's Purse, a Billy Graham ministry volunteer organization. He travels throughout the country helping in this type of disaster. Ed lives next door to Alvin, Sam and Paul and on Saturday he asked them if they would be interested in coming to Dexter. They did not hesitate to say yes. They drove up this morning and put in a long, hard day's work.
Sue Johnson and her husband were sheepish about accepting the help. Yes they had a monstrous amount of pine trees leveled in the storm. They'd planted the pines as saplings when they moved in 1970 and they grew for two generations before falling in a one hundred yard, six foot deep heap last Thursday night. Yet, just up the hill from the Johnson's sat a decimated home with its kitchen and laundry rooms exposed to the elements. But they were getting help from insurance supplied tree services and restoration companies. So when Sue realized Alvin, Sam, Paul and Ed had driven to their home from Indiana [120 miles away] they simply did not have the heart to say no.
Sue also realized it would cost thousands of dollars to have a commercial tree company clean her yard and these volunteers were happy to do it for nothing. She felt a pique of conscience and even offered to pay the men for their efforts. They of course refused. But she did have something they valued much more than greenbacks; salad greens, hot dogs and lasagna. Sue happily cooked, they happily had lunch and everyone walked away well fed and happy. Alvin, Sam, Paul and Ed say they're going to stay for the next three or four days so don't be surprised like Sue Johnson if they knock on your door in Dexter and offer to help. Just have the kitchen stove ready to go!
Here is the understatement of the day, which came from Ed Teegardin. He told Local 4 News of his Amish friends, "We love having them as neighbors."
I believe I can speak for everyone in Dexter, so impressed with the best of us, so do we!
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